After hiding as a reserve in-line blocker his first two seasons, Dalton Schultz was given a golden opportunity in 2020. With Jason Witten leaving for Las Vegas and Blake Jarwin suffering a season-ending injury in Week 1, Schultz became everyone’s favorite target and put together a breakout season. And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he went out and outperformed those numbers the following year to the tune of 78 catches, 808 yards, and eight touchdowns. Suddenly, Schultz was seen as an integral part of this team’s offense.
Last year, the Cowboys weren’t sure how to proceed with him long-term. Yes, he was a very reliable target for Dak Prescott and an underrated blocker, but did his skill set offer something unique or was he just a solid player in a system that relies heavily on flexible tight end play?
The front office wasn’t sure, so they hedged their bet by franchise-tagging Schultz last offseason and drafting a new rookie, Jake Ferguson, in the fourth round. They also signed priority free agent Peyton Hendershot who surprised many be having a great camp and earning a spot on the 53-man roster.
The end result was a very well-rounded assortment of tight end weapons that also included third-year tight end Sean McKeon who at first was cut, then signed to the practice squad, and then eventually promoted to the active roster. All in all, these four guys did everything this team needed last year.
With all this tight end goodness, it now presents the question, how should the Cowboys proceed? Schultz’s overall numbers dipped, but he dealt with injuries and came up clutch at times for this offense last year. At the same time, the fun-loving rookies, appropriately nicknamed Frick and Frack, had an outstanding season and it makes us wonder just how good these two can become.
On Wednesday, we kicked off our offseason plan for each position group. So far we have...
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at quarterback
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at running back
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do on the offensive line
- Cowboys 2023 offseason guide: Here’s what they should do at wide receiver
Today, we’ll take a close look at the tight end position.
WHAT WE KNOW
After continuing to put together strong seasons, Schultz now comes with a sizeable price tag. Spotrac projects his market value to be $15.1 million annually, which is the highest of any tight end entering free agency this offseason. This would make him the second-highest-paid tight end right above George Kittle and below Darren Waller.
Whether Schultz actually commands that price remains to be seen, but it seems highly unlike that the Cowboys would again allocate this much cap space for his services. They could choose to tag him again at a cost of roughly $13 million, but that’s still a costly price.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
It’s easy to think the coaching staff would feel good about the youngsters after promising rookie seasons, but we can’t discount the intricacies involved with the position. The precision of Schultz is something he’s developed through years of experience and these types of fine-tuned fundamentals aren’t automatically transferred to the next man up.
We know the Cowboys recognized Schultz’s value because they already tagged him once. If they believe his overall contributions are significant and can’t be easily replicated, they could decide to keep him around. He’s acted as a dependable safety net for Prescott and that’s an important factor.
WHAT THE COWBOYS SHOULD DO
Schultz is one of my personal favorites on this roster, but in these types of situations, you have to really evaluate value over replacement. Is Schultz the better tight end? You betcha. Is he that much better to where it warrants spending that type of scratch to keep him around? Don’t think so.
Ferguson and Hendershot are a perfectly safe starting point for this Cowboys team. Having McKeon around adds more blocking. The best use of resources would be to let some other team pay Schultz in free agency and just draft another new tight end to develop in the system.